Modern Painters: The Camden Town Group: Room guide, Portrait / Figure / Type

Harold Gilman, ‘Mrs Mounter at the Breakfast Table’ 1916–7
Harold Gilman
Mrs Mounter at the Breakfast Table 1916–7
Walter Richard Sickert, ‘Ennui’ c.1914
Walter Richard Sickert
Ennui c.1914

Many Camden Town painters adopted Sickert’s view that great art flourished, not in the drawing room, but in the scullery and the kitchen. They were concerned with conveying the essential reality of modern life but valued the authenticity of ordinary lower class existence above that of the privileged upper classes. Subjects derived from the domestic arena were seen to represent a legitimately ‘real’ experience, uncompromised by constraints of taste and fashion.

The pictorial realm of the urban interior had traditionally been a female one, set against the masculine world of the street. London women, therefore, became a popular theme, particularly working and lower middle class girls such as costermongers and charladies. Although many of the sitters were known personally to the artists, these paintings are not primarily portraits of individuals. Rather they are representations of specific urban ‘types’ relying upon and reinforcing generic assumptions about social background and gender.